The History of Basil
"Basil" is derived from the Greek word basilikon for "royal." Native to India, Africa and Asia, basil has been known:
- As a token of love in Italy
- An icon of hospitality in India
- For its medicinal use in China
- As a passport to help the deceased to enter Paradise in Egypt
Used as a botanical in embalming bodies in Egypt, basil is now prominently used in a number of the world's cuisines, including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian. It's powerful content of antioxidant flavonoids makes it an important staple in maintaining a healthy diet.
Using Basil for It's Nutrients and Health Benefits
To preserve the most benefit of this nutrient-rich plant, it is important to know how to best use it in the diet and in cooking. Here are some tips on using basil for greatest health benefits.
1. How to select basil
Basil is most aromatic when purchased fresh. Look for crisp, vibrant, green leaves, avoiding those with dark spots or yellowing. Dried basil can be used when there isn't fresh around. I recommend purchasing organically grown fresh or dried basil whenever possible.
2. How to store basil
Lightly rinse fresh basil, wrap in a slightly damp paper towel and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Do not store in the bottom of the refrigerator where it is most cold as it will develop dark spots on the leaves. You can also chop or blend with olive oil and store in the refrigerator. It can be frozen whole or chopped and stored in an airtight container for up to three months. Dried basil can be stored in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place for up to six months.
3. How to prepare basil
Basil can be quickly rinsed under cold water and patted dry before use. However, it should not be soaked in water as it will lose much of its water soluble nutrients in the water. Leaves should be pulled off the stem to reduce the bitternes found in the stems.
4. Healthiest way to cook with basil
Adding basil to dishes at the end of the cooking time or sprinkled on fresh when serving will preserve its health benefits the most. Dried basil loses much of its aromatic properties, but it can be enhanced by cooking. It is recommended to add dried basil about half way through the cooking time. Basil can stand on it its own, but also mixes well with other spices like garlic, thyme and oregano.
The main health benefits of basil include
- Antioxidant: Flavonoids such as orientin and vicenin provide powerful antioxidant protection against radiation and oxidation.
- Anti-inflammatory: The volitile oil eugenol found in basil is a strong anti-inflammatory known to block the inflammatory effects of the enzyme cyclooxygenase. Tylenol and NSAIDS like advil try to block the effects of this same enzyme.
- Anti-bacterial: Studies show that basil is effective at restricting growth of bacteria and eliminating some parisitic worms, making it particularly useful in healing the intestines.
- Note: Basil has some amount of oxylate and not recommended for those on low oxylate diets or who have had oxlate-containing kidney stones.
Basil is an aromatic medicinal plant that can be used to flavor cooking while bringing several health benefits to the table. Use it often in cooking by making pesto, added to salads or sprinkled on soups. It's very easy to grow some basil in the garden or potted on your balcony. Try the many varieties including sweet basil, holy basil, lemon basil, anise basil and cinnamon basil. Some of these can be found in antioxidant supplements like Designs for Health, Ulitmate Antitox Full Spectrum.